Driven by James Sallis – review

I reread Drive before tackling Driven, its brand-spankin’ new sequel.  I hadn’t read Drive for years, not even when the Nicolas Winding Refn adaptation came out last fall starring Ryan Gosling did I give it another look, not wanting the book-to-film comparison to color my viewing of the film.  Now, as you might know, I fucking loved that film, but it was very different from the book.  Where the book kept shifting time, making the reader work to figure out where they are in the story, the film is strictly linear.  Where the novel let us into Driver’s past while keeping his motives a mystery, the movie barely gave us any dialogue from Driver – only his actions.  I bring up these differences mainly to say, you know, if you haven’t read the book and only seen or recall the movie, fucking read the book before doing up Driven.  (Both works are around 150 pages – easy-fucking-peasy)

Drive the novel is undeniably a modern classic of the crime genre, a riveting yet tantalizingly ambiguous piece of pulp that few novels can live up to.  While that book challenges the reader’s ideas about the classic anti-hero, Driven raises questions about the classic plot of many crime novels.  It opens with Driver living a normal life in Arizona with a very normal girlfriend.  He has a name now in Paul West and a job restoring classic cars in his own garage, no more movie stunt work or getaway driving has happened for many years.  Then his girlfriend is murdered, Driver killing the two attackers before they can do the same to him.

The rest of the novel finds Driver going to ground once again, meeting up with his old contacts and trying to figure out who sent the killers.  He fucks up a whole lotta baddies and gets some answers, but with every answer the waters only become more murky, the identity of the big boss less clear.  In the end, we do get closure as to what in his past has brought this wave of violence back in his life, but it is intentionally anti-climactic and defeating.  Sallis is trying to fuck with our expectations, making us ponder what we feel we deserve as readers from a crime novel.

This is not to say there’s anything hugely post-modern about the writing, no major winks or nudges to the reader that they’re, indeed, reading a genre novel or anything like that – the novel is still spare and involving, decidedly “real.”  In fact, unlike Drive, this is a far more linear experience than you might expect, the flashbacks coming on only occasionally and rarely in a confusing way.  Sallis is trying for a very different experience here, it feels like the same world, but it reads differently, for sure.

Is Driven better than Drive?  No, but it is a fantastic sequel.  Like all good sequels (The Godfather Part II, Aliens) it’s not just a retread of the  same story made louder but a different approach to the same characters.  It’s not going to awe you quite the same way as Drive did, but it certainly a worthy successor, a crime story that challenges and entertains in equal (very different) measures.  Personally, I can’t fucking wait to see how Sallis fucks with me in Drove.


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Nerd of Noir

I love crime/noir fiction, comics and movies. I think my opinions are web-worthy. Then again, what asshole doesn't think that their opinions deserve a blog?

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2 comments for “Driven by James Sallis – review

  1. April 3, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    “Like all good sequels (The Godfather Part II, Aliens) it’s not just a retread of the same story made louder but a different approach to the same characters.”

    Very good to hear that. Spinning wheels (no pun intended) is never a good thing, but I was particularly concerned how this one would be presented. Very nice review.

  2. April 4, 2012 at 9:29 am

    I was at the launch of Driven at the Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale, AZ, last night. Great though Drive is, I think Driven is better. Sallis says he has no plans for another novel about driver, but he added that he never planned a sequel to Drive.

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